For Chelsey Glasson, working at Google wasn’t just a job — it was a dream. At least at first.
“This is not healthy, but Google was my identity,” Glasson, a former user experience researcher, told The Lily over the phone last week. “All of my friends were at Google, I spent more time at Google than I did with the people in my life outside of Google. I had nothing but the intention of having many more years at the company.”
But after six years at Google, Glasson left last August, when she decided she would not return from her maternity leave. She says she experienced more than a year of alleged pregnancy discrimination and retaliation, culminating in the company offering her about $30,000 and a “walk away” agreement. She wrote about her experience on an internal company message board, which touched a nerve. It was viewed at least 11,000 times internally, Glasson said, and was eventually leaked to the media.
Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opened an investigation into Google, which is owned by Alphabet, regarding Glasson’s case, CNBC reported. She filed a complaint with the EEOC and the Washington State Human Rights Commission last September, claiming pregnancy discrimination and retaliation at Google despite her track record of glowing performance reviews.
On Tuesday, Glasson offered to drop her EEOC complaint if Google moved to change its culture with training from the Center for Parental Leave Leadership, an organization that offers services like consulting, training and research to help companies support working parents.
“I’m hoping that Google will work with me and the center to implement training and other resources,” the 37-year old mother of two said. “I’m trying to give Google the chance to do the right thing and course correct.”
If Google proves unwilling to work with her, Glasson would consider suing the tech giant, she said, but she prefers not to take that route. The EEOC complaint, however, is the first step in the legal process if she ultimately ends up suing.
Google went public over a decade ago with the motto “Don’t be evil” — which has since been dropped — and has drawn scrutiny in recent years. In 2018, the revelation of hundreds of millions of dollars in severance packages paid to male executives accused of sexual harassment prompted a global walkout.
Since then, most of the organizers of the walkout have left the company. At least two — Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker — claimed they were retaliated against for organizing it. At the time, Google denied the allegations of retaliation and released a blog post announcing a new website for employees to report concerns. Reassignment commonly occurred “to keep pace with evolving business needs,” a spokesperson said.
The company also faces a U.S. National Labor Relations Board investigation into its labor practices for allegedly firing workers who tried to organize. Google said the employees were fired for violating company policy, including reviewing internal files that were outside the scope of their job and for accessing employees’ calendars.
Google also recently reached an $11 million settlement regarding age discrimination.
Glasson’s complaint focuses on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans With Disabilities Act, which she claims Google violated by trying to force out a pregnant colleague, then edging out Glasson herself.
During her tenure at the company, Glasson said she was twice given “superb” performance reviews usually reserved for the top two percent of Google employees. This includes a 2017 assessment that described her as “a consistent powerhouse,” according to the EEOC complaint.
In Feb. 2018, Glasson became a manager and a month later she received yet another glowing review describing her as “rock solid,” noting that she had “owned” her management role and was on a “fast track” for a promotion, according to the complaint.
Then her supervisor, a woman with whom she said she enjoyed a good relationship, began inappropriately commenting about one of Glasson’s direct reports, saying she was “likely pregnant again, and that she was overly emotional and hard to work with when pregnant,” the complaint said. Glasson worried she was being encouraged to steer the woman off her team, and spoke with HR.
Afterward, her relationship with her manager soured, and became “toxic,” Glasson said, claiming that her projects were vetoed and that she was frequently publicly shamed. She also said her manager interviewed candidates to replace her behind her back.
Glasson eventually sought, and was offered, a management position on another team. When she informed her supervisors, she said she was urged to stay, and was told her manager was leaving the team anyway for reasons that weren’t explained. Glasson turned down the new position and continued to work for the same manager, who did not leave and continued to retaliate against her, according to the EEOC complaint.
Glasson eventually took a lower-level management position on a different team. She was surprised when her offer letter did not definitively refer to her as a manager on the team, but instead suggested she could become one after her maternity leave, which would not start for another five months. The letter, which was reviewed by The Lily, also said the plan may “rock the boat” for her team, which Glasson said refers to her maternity leave. When she had a pregnancy-related health condition and said her obstetrician might place her on bed rest, her concerns were dismissed by her female manager; the manager said that when she was pregnant, she had worked until the day before giving birth, Glasson noted in the EEOC complaint.
While on maternity leave, Glasson said she got the first negative performance review of her Google career. She was also offered about $30,000 and a “walk away” agreement.
An EEOC spokeswoman declined to comment on Glasson’s complaint, citing agency policy.
In a recent Medium post, Glasson detailed another alleged incident of misconduct during her time working at Google. She said she experienced sexual harassment during a company trip to Secrets, an adults-only beach club in Mexico, in which she says a Google exec bought a round of shots, forced her to dance with him and commented that he found her “attractive and irresistible.”
“I experienced sexual harassment at the company in 2014, and then I went through this tremendous experience in my last year and a half and the discrimination and harassment that I experienced was so blatant,” Glasson said.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t speak up and use my story to prevent this illegal activity and harassment from happening to other Googlers,” she added. “And I knew if it was happening to me, then absolutely it was happening to other people.”
Google declined to comment on Glasson’s specific allegations of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment. However, the company issued the following statement: “Reporting misconduct takes courage and we want to provide care and support to people who raise concerns. All instances of inappropriate conduct reported to us are investigated rigorously, and over the past year we have simplified how employees can raise concerns and provided more transparency into the investigations process at Google. We work to be extremely transparent about how we handle complaints and the action we take.”
While pregnancy discrimination complaints like Glasson’s are trending downward — in 2019, 2,753 such complaints were filed with the EEOC, compared with the 4,029 filed in 2010 — employment lawyer Nancy Erika Smith said that pregnancy discrimination is still rampant.
“Two things are as true today as they were 40 years ago: Pregnant women are discriminated against and HR is never your friend,” said Smith, who represented former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson in her sexual harassment and retaliation suit against Fox News’s then-chairman, Roger Ailes.
“Pregnant women are penalized every day for continuing our species. It’s particularly egregious because you’re so vulnerable when you’re pregnant. You need your medical care, you need economic security. It’s so cruel and so outrageous,” Smith said. “It happens every day and it is unabated.”
Glasson currently works at Facebook, and she knows her particular skill set is in high demand in her industry, which gives her the privilege of some job security. She also notes that her tech salary grants her the ability to take on costly legal actions that others in a similar situation would not be able to afford. To date, she said the legal fees associated with filing her EEOC complaint and drafting her demand letter have amounted to nearly $36,000.
“That’s another reason I’m speaking out,” she said. “I’m in a better situation than most people.”
Still, she has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $300,000 for legal fees. But the costs for Glasson aren’t just monetary.
Last week, she sent a LinkedIn message to her former co-workers with a link to the Medium post in which she alleged sexual harassment, along with a note that said: “Please do encourage Googlers if they see something, to do something.”
A few people responded, she said, but mostly she was met with silence.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said, adding, “I did nothing wrong and the consequences for me are very real. I’m paying tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, I’m an outcast at Google and lost many friendships, and I have crippling anxiety. And this is all happening at a point in my life when what I need is support in being a mom of two young children.”